Historic Industrial Activities
For more than a hundred years, Bellingham’s waterfront served the economic region as a bustling industrial area, a transportation gateway and the home to many maritime activities. In the 1900s, Bellingham boasted the world’s largest wood shingle mill and the largest salmon cannery in the world. The natural resources in Whatcom County helped feed and shelter the nation, win world wars, and propel America to become the wealthiest nation in the world. However, until the 1970s, industrial activities on the waterfront went largely unregulated, and there was little awareness about potential threats of these activities to human health and the environment. Fuel was spilled. Chemicals were released into the land and water. Trash was dumped along the shoreline, and when fishermen complained of garbage in their nets, the waste was confined onto the mud flats, and new industrial land was created.
Increasing Environmental Awareness
In 1972, a new era of environmental stewardship was ushered into the United States with the passage of the Clean Water Act. Waterfront businesses quickly adapted to the new regulations, but contamination from historic activities remained in the land, water, and sediment.
The Present Many of the traditional, natural resource-based employers have left the waterfront, but the legacy of historic contamination remains. Cleaning up and redeveloping contaminated property has proven to be a difficult task, complicated by high costs, concerns about environmental liability, habitat alterations, source control issues, and regulatory and land owner constraints. The port has been working with other agencies to make sure the waterfront does not remain contaminated and underutilized. The port has acquired most of the contaminated property and is working closely with the community to clean up historic contamination, rebuild the waterfront economy, restore salmon habitat, and improve public access to the water.